Adaptive Cruise Control: A Safer Way to Drive?

Adaptive Cruise Control: A Safer Way to Drive?

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Cruising along the highway in your car can be an enjoyable driving experience. With nothing but an open road ahead, you can relax, listen to music, and maintain a constant speed.

But on especially long trips, monitoring and adjusting your speed can be a hassle and might add to fatigue.

That's where traditional cruise control comes in, keeping your vehicle at a constant cruising speed, giving you peace of mind you're not breaking the speed limit, and letting you pay more attention to the road.

But regular cruise control has its limitations, like not taking into account slower vehicles up ahead, upcoming turns, or lower speed limits. 

Adaptive cruise control — or ACC for short — takes standard cruise control several steps further to increase safety and ensure you don't go faster than posted speeds.

Let's look at the subject of adaptive cruise control systems and why they're such an excellent option on today's vehicles.

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How traditional cruise control works

Standard cruise control allows you to follow a set speed without adjusting the accelerator. It can prove particularly convenient on longer trips, helping you save energy as the miles and hours pass by.

Cruise control works by monitoring the throttle position to maintain the miles per hour of your choice. Instead of regulating the gas pedal, the cruise control system varies the throttle valve with an actuator connected to a cable. The throttle valve manages the power and RPM of the engine by adjusting the amount of air inducted. 

Typically, a regular cruise control system has several buttons for on, off, set/accel, coast, and resume. You can usually find these controls on the steering wheel or a turn signal or windshield wiper stalk.

After turning the cruise control on and reaching your desired speed, the set/accel button locks it in, so you maintain a constant velocity. If you'd like to raise your vehicle speed, a tap of the set/accel button nudges it up a little bit. 

But if you enter an area with a lower speed limit or want to slow down a bit, tapping the coast button knocks one or two MPH off your momentum.

All cruise control systems automatically shut off when you press the brake pedal, so there's no need to worry about your vehicle continuing if you encounter traffic or a stoplight.

And once you decide you don't need to use cruise control for the moment, setting it to the off position ensures the accelerator pedal is all that affects speed control. 

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What is adaptive cruise control?

Adaptive cruise control takes standard cruise control and adds additional benefits like maintaining a set following distance and adjusting to different roads and speed limits.

When shopping for a vehicle, you may see ACC also advertised as:

  • Intelligent cruise control
  • Dynamic cruise control
  • Automatic cruise control
  • Radar cruise control
  • Active cruise control 

By using an array of technologies like cameras, radar sensors, and lasers, ACC monitors the distance of surrounding vehicles and objects, leading to enhanced safety.

If you set your adaptive cruise control while driving on the highway, and a vehicle slows up ahead, ACC automatically detects it and maintains your pre-set following distance. Or, if a vehicle ahead stops in front of you or a collision might occur, some systems sound an alert, allowing you to take evasive action.

Some of the most advanced ACC systems mesh with the navigation system and other sensors, adjusting miles per hour to posted speed limits and slowing your car down if you encounter tight corners. 

And with autonomous driving on the horizon, some automakers include even more automatic safety features in their driver assistance systems, like lane centering, pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, and automatic braking. 

Some of the newest systems even use lane change assist, in which sensors monitor the adjacent lane and automatically apply steering to complete the maneuver.

How much does adaptive cruise control cost?

Just like picking out automotive trims, the price of adaptive cruise control varies, depending on features and technology. 

ACC systems with the highest technology and features may cost $2,000-$2,500. 

But if you only need adaptive cruise control for low speeds of 20-25 mph, more rudimentary systems can go for around $500. 

The positive thing is that as adaptive cruise control becomes more common, it should drop in price.

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Benefits and drawbacks of adaptive cruise control

By using sensors to scan for surrounding vehicles and keep a safe distance, the adaptive cruise control enhances not only your safety but those around you. 

And ACC also optimizes traffic flow by surveying neighboring cars and their proximity.

Aside from those technical abilities, ACC also lets you drive in peace, knowing you'll be at a safe speed, only needing to pay attention to the road. 

But ACC isn't perfect, and its sensors might be hindered by challenging weather conditions like rain or snow or when you encounter a tunnel. 

Even though ACC assists in maintaining your speed and navigating different roads and traffic conditions, practicing safe driving habits still goes a long way toward ensuring your security on the road. 

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Author
Shift Editorial Team